NBER Study: Households had the highest COVID-19 transmission rates

During the pandemic, states enacted numerous restrictions to curb the transmission of the virus. One of those restrictions was the stay-at-home order. In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency and then ordered the closure of schools as well as other customer-facing businesses like restaurants and bars beginning Mid-March. This was supposed to lessen the spread of COVID-19, so as not to overwhelm the health sector.

New evidence has come out showing that this might have made things worse. According to one study,

the evidence suggests that “households show the highest transmission rates” and that “households are high-risk settings for the transmission of [COVID-19].” Schools, businesses, and other organizations implemented a range of prevention protocols – from adjusting airflow to installing physical barriers to monitoring compliance to administering their own testing services – that households did not, and perhaps could not. Something in these organizations greatly reduced the spread, as suggested most clearly in the infection-source data from hospitals and health clinics as well as prevalence data from meat-processing plants.

Generally, communities had a far greater contribution to COVID-19 than establishments.

Infections of in-person primary and secondary students and staff were more than twenty times more likely to be traced to the community rather than someone else in their school. COVID-19 prevalence among on-campus university students, in-person primary and secondary students and staff, and airline pilots is observed to be below the prevalence of comparable populations not engaged in these activities. On the comparatively rare occasions when infected persons are present in a school or workplace, the close contacts made there are infected rarely enough to more than offset the greater number of contacts that are made at work or school as compared to home. To the extent that these findings are due to prevention activities that took organizations time to devise and implement, the sign of the public-health effects of stay-at-home orders may have reversed during the first few weeks of the pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, research evidence has shown little to no support for COVID-19 restrictions. Not only have these mitigating efforts been economically damaging, but they have also had little impact on COVID-19 outcomes. This evidence outlines just one of the few reasons why lockdowns had no discernible effect on COVID-19 transmission–– stay-at-home orders increased household transmission rates.